In the eighteenth century, although chairs were routinely brought into the center of a room as needed, when not in use they were returned to the perimeter of the room and arranged symmetrically along the walls as part of the room’s décor. Individual chairs such as the desk chair or fauteuil de bureau that were not part of larger sets presented a problem in this scheme because they could not be matched symmetrically when placed against the wall. The French solved this design problem by creating a desk chair that could reside attractively in the corner of a room when not in use. For this reason, the leg structure of the desk chair is oriented as if the legs of a normal chair had been rotated 90 degrees. The resultant diamond orientation of the seat allowed for a barrel-like back enclosure. Since much of eighteenth century design favored the natural curve—especially the cabriole curve—over the straight line or right angle, the “softening” of a room’s angular corner by placing a desk chair there was an added benefit of this design.
The Dumbarton Oaks desk chair was made by Claude-Étienne Michard, who had become a master joiner (maître menuisier) of his guild in 1757 and worked in Paris. His stamp is found on the underside of the front right seat rail. Interestingly, a virtually identical chair stamped by the Parisian master joiner Étienne Meunier, who became maître menuisier in 1732, is in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu [71.DA.91], where the chair is dated to around 1735. Since no professional relationship between the two joiners is known, it is possible that Michard copied the earlier design or had access to the design templates. Both chairs are unusual in having “secret” compartments under the padded armrests or manchettes. When opened, the hinged manchettes reveal small, leather-lined storage spaces.
Bühl, Gudrun, editor. Dumbarton Oaks, The Collections. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (distributed by Harvard University Press), 2008, 352f, ill.
French and English Art Treasures of the XVIII Century, Loan Exhibition in Aid of the American Women's Voluntary Services, 12/20-30/1940, Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, NY; catalogue: p. 32, no. 168.
Purchased from Geoffrey Dodge & Co., Paris (dealer), by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, 1/27/1931.
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, DC, 1/27/1931-11/29/1940.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, DC.